PAGE THREE Summer Jobs

The City Was His Feed Bag

For a wily carriage horse named Bourbon, Philadelphia was an abundant source of ill-gotten equine treats.
For a wily carriage horse named Bourbon, Philadelphia was an abundant source of ill-gotten equine treats. (By George Widman -- Associated Press)
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Friday, August 15, 2008

We asked you to share memories of jobs you held in summers past. Here's one from Adele Levine.

I got to the barn at 7 and spent an hour and a half grooming Bourbon and getting the carriage ready. By the time I pulled the carriage out of the barn and threw Bourbon's saddle across his back, I was covered in a thick sheen of sweat.

Bourbon didn't like being a Philadelphia carriage horse any more then I liked being a Philadelphia carriage driver. The only good thing about the job was that my horse seemed to feel the same way I did. The traffic was claustrophobic. It was hot. People yelled at you.

There were a lot of things downtown that scared Bourbon. Dumpsters gave him the willies, and he would trot past them with his ears flattened against his head. Skateboarders. Jackhammers. These were reasons to take off running -- especially if I happened to be down on the sidewalk collecting a tip from a patron.

To calm himself, Bourbon was a compulsive eater. While I scouted for rides on the corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets, Bourbon would mug the people waiting at the bus stop of all of their food items. These were not horse lovers. These were people who had lived in the city all of their lives and had never had a satisfactory encounter with a dog, let alone a draft horse.

Bourbon would stretch his neck out toward them, pinning them against the bus stop shelter while he wiggled his oversize lips enthusiastically at the muffin or bagel they happened to be holding. This treat was immediately turned over to Bourbon as if it were a holdup. They'd lean away from Bourbon, fearing the worst, but Bourbon would delicately pick the treat out of their outstretched hands, using only the soft tips of his lips.

Bourbon's most impressive heist was boldly swiping a head of cabbage out of a Chinese takeout cart. I had pulled up on the corner to use the pay phone. No sooner had I dropped my quarter into the phone when a piercing shriek split the thick afternoon air. I turned around and was surprised to find the carriage jackknifed and Bourbon up to his shoulders inside the food cart's takeout window. The vendor was pinned against the back wall of the aluminum booth, screaming for all she was worth. Bourbon yanked his head back out, eyes rolling wildly around his head, with a head of cabbage clutched in his jaws.

The next day, Bourbon and I passed the same takeout cart. I heard shouting and thought the vendor was going to yell at me about the cabbage. But instead she came running out of her cart with a bowl of sliced strawberries. When Bourbon saw her, he stopped. She held the bowl of strawberries for him while he ate and timidly stroked his neck.

It could have been a love affair. Every Friday, she would bring Bourbon strawberries. Bourbon seemed to know exactly when it was Friday and would walk briskly toward her cart, pulling against the reins. She'd come running down the sidewalk toward him. Bourbon would nuzzle her shoulder affectionately before digging into the strawberries.

Carriage driving was only a seasonal thing for me. It was too hard to sell carriage rides in the winter. When it got cold, I quit. During that dark, blustery Philadelphia winter I looked forward to summer and seeing Bourbon again.

That winter, Bourbon was sold to a carriage company in Minnesota.

I tried to be happy for Bourbon. He had gotten out of Philadelphia.

I worked for the carriage company for three more summers, but without Bourbon it was never really the same.

-- Adele Levine, Wheaton

© 2008 The Washington Post Company